Virat Kohli’s captaincy: Numbers and other perspectives

  • Statistics are strongly in favour of the India skipper though there is no one way of looking at success. A T20 World Cup win though will settle all arguments.
Virat Kohli, captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore.(PTI) PREMIUM
Virat Kohli, captain of Royal Challengers Bangalore.(PTI)
Published on Oct 13, 2021 07:43 PM IST
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By Cricketwallah/Ayaz Memon

Tears flowed down Virat Kohli’s cheeks as the opportunity to win the IPL title for the first time slipped out of his hands yet again, giving critics of his captaincy some more ammo to fire at him. A cricket aficionado I know pulled out his favourite jibe: “Great batsman but does not have the same grip on captaincy.”

In his magnificent treatise, The Art of Captaincy, former England captain Mike Brearley highlights why extraordinary playing skills do not necessarily make a good captain. “Certainly the best player is not necessarily an adequate captain, any more than the best salesman makes a sales manager,” writes Brearley. “Indeed, the outstandingly gifted may well find it difficult to understand the problems of the average performer in their field. The Peter Principle is that people are inevitably promoted beyond their sphere of excellence.’’

There are enough examples in cricket history to ratify this theory. There can be several other reasons too for a captain’s failures. Should Brian Lara’s captaincy record be judged in the perspective that by the time he came into the job, West Indies had become a spent force?

In 2007, India fared disastrously in the ODI World Cup, eliminated in the first round. Rahul Dravid has Test series wins in the West Indies and England and lost narrowly 1-2 in South Africa. But in the 2007 World Cup, the dressing room was in strife over Greg Chappell which caused the debacle, not the calibre of players or Dravid’s captaincy.

In the topsy-turvy 1987 Reliance Cup, one of the biggest upsets was West Indies being knocked out before the semi-final. Even Viv Richards’s greatness was of no avail as his team floundered on slow tracks. The batting was strong with Haynes, Richardson, Logie, Hooper and Dujon also there, but West Indies were severely handicapped for pace and experience.

Walsh was still to find his metier, Patterson and Baptiste didn’t quite measure up to the likes of Roberts, Holding and Garner, deadly on any kind of pitch, who had quit by then. “This World Cup came two years too late for me as captain”—or words to the effect—quipped Richards after the match. He wasn’t to get another shot at the coveted title.

With no IPL title for RCB (now impossible since he’s quit from the post), nor an ICC title to show so far, Kohli’s captaincy has come under increasing and harsh scrutiny, particularly in the past couple of years. However, examining his captaincy record from another lens, he emerges with flying colours, throwing up a fascinating conundrum.

Going by win percentage, Kohli is India’s most successful captain in every format. In Tests, he’s won 58.46% of the 65 matches he’s led in, behind Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting who led all-time great Aussie sides. MS Dhoni (45%) and Sourav Ganguly (42.85%), two hugely successful Indian captains, lag behind. Kohli’s captaincy record is also way ahead of Clive Lloyd (48.64% wins) and Imran Khan (29.16%), considered two of the greatest captains in the history of the game.

In ODIs, Kohli has a success percentage of 70.43, bettered only by Lloyd, Ponting and Hansie Cronje. In the more mercurial, unpredictable T20I too, his win percentage is impressive (65.11), better than any Indian captain, including the venerated Dhoni. Indeed, he has won the last five bilateral T20 series India’s played.

These are hugely impressive overall figures. However, stats and data are not the only yardsticks for determining excellence in captaincy. For instance, stats may not reveal where a captain failed to influence and exploit situations to make his team win. It could be that a captain’s overall win percentage is lesser than another’s, but he has more titles.

Titles of multi-team (IPL) and multi-nation tournaments have gathered significance since 1975 because they are thought to represent a hardship level not usually associated with bilateral contests, though that too is not necessarily true. India’s triumph over Australia in the 2020 Test series was epochal, better than any other in the country’s cricket history.

Where Kohli has been found wanting in winning IPL or ICC tournaments is difficult to pinpoint. Had India won the inaugural World Test Championship against New Zealand this year, I suspect the debate would have fizzled out. It reared up again during this IPL, to no avail for Kohli, but can still be settled in his favour if India win the T20 World Cup.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2021